Jasper Johns, born in 1930, grew up in South Carolina. In the early 1950’s Johns moved to New York and by 1958 had his first solo exhibition. His representational images of flags and numbers had nothing in common with the nonfigurative abstract works of New York School painters. Unlike the Abstract Expressionists, Johns wanted to keep his emotions out of his art, and his signature use of neutral signs, a target or a pair of ale cans, allowed for this detachment.
Johns works slowly and painstakingly, lavishing paint on targets and flags with the intensity Cézanne once brought to his apples. He proceeds the same way with his prints, creating sensuous surfaces by building up fields of overlapping marks and colors. His first print, the lithograph Target, was made in 1960. At this time the Abstract Expressionists promoted the idea that painting was absolutely indispensable, and Johns, along with Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol, reintroduced printmaking as a valuable method of creating art. From the start, graphics suited his artistic interest in change and variation, as printmaking allows for revision and repetition of images. Influenced by the ideas of Marcel Duchamp, Johns recycles imagery that both celebrates and subverts modern mass culture. The brilliance of Johns work is encapsulated in the following question: is the artist elevating banal imagery or debasing fine art?
The work of Jasper Johns can be viewed in numerous public collections including the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Jewish Museum, New York, New York; Kunstmuseum, Basel, Switzerland; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York; Museum of Fine Art, Boston, Massachusetts; Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York; Museum of Modern Art, Paris, France; National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; National Museum of Stockholm, Sweden; Pasadena Art Museum, California; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Städtische Galerie, Frankfurt, Germany; Tate Modern, London, England; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York.